O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit
Hear the voice and prayer
Why fum’th in fight?
O nata lux de lumine
O sacrum convivium
O salutaris hostia
From the Beginning of the World [world premiere]
Spem in Alium
The Cardinall’s Musick
Reviewed by: Kate Telfer
Reviewed: 20 July, 2015
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Andrew Carwood and The Cardinall’s Musick were all efficiency for this, the first Proms Chamber Music of the 2015 Season. All-black was the uniform and the changeover of singers choreographed. Even applause was prescribed – Carwood preferred not to hear from the audience on occasion. PCM1 surfaced in Cadogan Hall, this great lady of palest sage-green and cappuccino walls, soft furnishings and bright ceiling lamps was a programme of spiritual contemplation almost entirely by Thomas Tallis. The exception was a world-premiere tribute to Tallis by Cheryl Frances-Hoad.
The text she happened upon. For Frances-Hoad, the Treatise on the Great Comet of 1577 (by Tycho Brahe, 1546-1601, astronomer, astrologist and alchemist), time, the calendar and the cosmos conjure an atmosphere of nebulous change, and specifically the spiritual and musical shift Tallis underwent as a result of the Reformation. Organum and double canons pay homage to 16th-century forms then shrouded in clusters, chords stacked high with additives, moments of sky-high glissandos and others of basses like kettle drums. Steve Reich might have infiltrated the BBC booth and begun looping the microphones so off-the-wall were the moments of polyphony, and Gabriel Jackson and Orlande de Lassus too seemed present. “A comet with a very long tail” would have found footing where no man has gone before (reader, it sounded like the Star Trek theme) where “pseudo prophets” was vocal jazz.
The members of Cardinall’s Musick were required to use their voices more freely and did so. With a director so entrenched in the traditional practices of English choral music, it is unsurprising The Cardinall’s Musick serves up trebly sopranos and countertenors for altos (mezzos made an appearance, but only when numbers were needed for the forty-part Spem in Alium). The voices, though beautifully put together and produced, were held firmly in reverence so that despite Tallis’s ventriloquism and modernity, the approach was always the same. That said, passing dissonance was left to tantalise and Carwood’s conducting breathed space and order. He held the energy in his hands for all his singers to see and the response was accurate indeed.
And so, staid first numbers played out like viol-consort music. Spem in Alium was rather more arresting for its sheer size. Sound slunk and squeezed down and back again (a great organ) as density and complexity surfaced in waves around the two great silences of the work. These went gloriously uninterrupted. Tallis’s genius was there to be heard. The final lines “Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, have regard for our lowliness” beat from the core then ever so slowly melted into a final chord seemingly forever present. Whether it was the upwards-inflecting Cadogan acoustic, Carwood’s direction or an awareness of being on microphone, the singers weren’t very loud. Tallis here is romantic and subliminal! They were not.
This concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 – The Cardinall’s Music might have been built for radio. Frances-Hoad’s From the Beginning of the World should have given the singers everything to chew on, and the intention was there! But it was never quite impassioned. Though undeniably beautiful-sounding, Carwood and his ensemble were not brave. Shame – Carwood’s waving is so good he could allow his vocalists greater expressive freedoms without sacrificing on neatness and clarity. Instead, the latter have preferential treatment and humanity is sacrificed. Carwood is at a point in his career when he could begin to loosen his grip, and to extraordinary effect. Here’s to the moment he chooses to do so.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)
- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms